Rock

By Thompson, Ben | The Independent (London, England), April 17, 1994 | Go to article overview
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Rock


Thompson, Ben, The Independent (London, England)


WHATEVER else Nick Cave does, he will always stand out in a crowd. I know this because I saw him in one once; bowling along Kensington High Street in an immaculate pin-striped suit, foreign-language students scattering to the left and right of him. With his high forehead, his hair swept back and his finely wrought legs tapering with the sturdy elegance of a Chippendale cabinet, Cave looked more like a character in a book than someone you might actually talk to.

This was just as it should have been, because Cave is a very literary songwriter. It's not just that he has published a work of fiction, And the Ass Saw the Angel, which gave new meaning to the term "Gothic novel". It's also the feel of his songs: many are crowded with characters who might have wandered in from an ante-room in the mind of William Faulkner. Cave is also a compelling, sometimes scary performer. The Birthday Party, the group with which he came to prominence after moving to Britain from his native Australia, was possibly the most frightening spectacle rock music has ever produced. With his next band, the Bad Seeds, Cave has lovingly explored the darker sides of the country, gospel and rock traditions which he once seemed about to destroy.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' new album, Let Love In, is, amazingly, their ninth. It finds them not settled in a routine but breaking thrilling new ground. Cave's long-established flair for baroque imagery applies itself to a new set of personal concerns. The two-part "Do You Love Me?", which frames eight other new songs, sets the intimate tone: "Our love lines grew hopelessly tangled, and the bells from the chapel went jingle-jangle". A Nick Cave scenario of old might have had him pursued by a big black crow in a bone carriage; now it's domestic demons he'll be running from.

Let Love In contains a couple of the brutal narratives for which Cave is widely celebrated, but there are also songs of such tender love and stately beauty that Leonard Cohen or Johnny Cash would be proud of them. The lovely "Nobody's Baby Now" is the most unashamedly romantic song Cave has written. His mordant wit has rarely been more to the fore either. On the hilariously sepulchral "Lay Me Low" he looks forward to his own demise: "They'll interview my teachers / Who'll say I was one of God's sorrier creatures."

When you first meet him, it is a surprise to find the Cave visage isn't perpetually twisted into one of those Neanderthal grimaces that tend to adorn his album covers. "I have a face that lends itself to distortion," he observes drily. He's not wearing a suit either - charcoal pin-striped trousers are set off by an uncharacteristically cuddly olive-green pullover, borrowed from his Brazilian wife, Viv. "I normally dress in suits," he says, "because I feel comfortable in them. I'm not wearing one today because I wanted to create a homely impression."

Homely is not a word one associates with Cave, who is renowned for his nomadic lifestyle: flitting between Sydney, Berlin and Sao Paulo, buying another copy of Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline in every city he comes to. He now finds himself in the unaccustomed position of family man and taxpayer, living in a suburban house on the wrong side of London's Westway with his wife and their son Luke. His writing environment, in which this interview takes place, is an elegantly converted garden shed. There are tidy shelves, a small collection of Brazilian naive art, a Kylie Minogue flight-bag, pictures of Karen Carpenter and crime-writer James Ellroy, and, in pride of place behind the computer, a signed photo of Evel Knievel.

Has Cave's citizen-of-the-world lifestyle had a great effect on his music? "Not in terms of picking up sounds from other cultures, but definitely in terms of my psychological state. I don't think it's any coincidence that a lot of the characters I write about tend to be very rootless - always moving into or out of situations.

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